Wednesday 28 December 2016

A difficult year

 Published this week in the Kildare Nationalist. 

A lot of my acquaintances have found this a difficult year. Many of them are far removed from loved ones, and feel lonely over the holidays. A number of my friends have been made redundant this year – the crash affected mostly the working-class majority, but the “recovery” has mostly gone elsewhere. Politically, many of their countries have been torn by bitter elections – Ireland, the UK, and the USA. Even the weather feels strange to many of my neighbours, who have worked outside for generations and know such things in their bones.

I listen and sometimes offer encouragement, but I don’t have what people usually want to hear, as the coming years could get a lot worse. Fewer resources, burning more, disrupted weather, political turmoil, civil wars, millions of refugees – you know all this. Most of all, modern Westerners lack the skills to handle a crisis, or to sustain themselves for a while during a shortage, or the community and family bonds to support each other.

Thing is, we can’t change any of these things, just our reaction to them. We can get healthier – I include myself in this. We can meet more neighbours. We can learn to live more self-sufficiently on our own patch of ground, until each patch is its own lifeboat and no one need drown. We can keep knowledge, skills and resources with us until millions of families and homes are arks in the flood.

I am concerned for my friends who are having difficulties, of course. But I also think of my grandparents or neighbours, who lived on a fraction of the energy Westerners live on today, and lived long and happy lives. They were delighted to get an orange for Christmas or walk miles to the village to call on friends, and did not consider themselves miserable. When things get bad in Hollywood movies, people start ripping each other apart; in real life, they often help each other out.

Remember that you are not alone; your area teems with people who are lonely, or can’t find someone to help, or who want to make a difference. I know an old lady who is house-bound, and I know a woman who has been made redundant and has nothing to do but sit in her garden. Both of them have things around the house that need fixing, and I know a handy young man who can’t find work. I know a man who needs help on his farm, a teenager who would love to earn some extra cash and learn some skills.

Most of these people’s problems would be solved if they learned to do things for each other. The woman could garden and grow food, enjoying a hobby while providing for her family. She could also garden the yard of her elderly neighbour, doubling her growing space while she and the old woman give each other company. The handyman who needs work could fix their houses in exchange for good home-cooked meals and the produce of their garden. My farmer friend could employ the teenager, teaching him skills.

You live in a place where the garbage cans are filled every day with machines that can be reused, furniture that could be restored, and food that could be composted to make soil again. You live with libraries, internet cafes and a surfeit of cheap stuff. It means there is much that can be reused, and that it is easy to live cheaply while using up few resources. It means you have power that most people in the world will never know, and that you are too important to lose.

Most people I know feel troubled about the future, and keep it to themselves. Today we diagnose such compassion, and prescribe medicines to remove it. But if people were irredeemable – if we really didn’t deserve to be saved – you wouldn’t feel this way.

You see, people who care about their future have two big problems – what to do with all that despair, and where they get the energy to do all that activism. And the two problems solve each other – that feeling of powerlessness can be a most powerful fuel, if you put it to work for you. We could get all those lonely people together to find a solution – but if they got together, they wouldn’t need one.

Sunday 25 December 2016

Christmas not so long ago

Leading up to Christmas the shopkeepers had to look after their customers; everybody got some gift. Good ones got a brack and a red 1 lb. candle, others got just a brack, another just a red candle and so on. The men who got tobacco were taken very quietly down to the parlour for a glass of whiskey. It all added to the excitement.

They bored a hole in a mangold to hold the candle, and everyone in the family was there Christmas Eve for the lighting of the candle. Christmas Eve was a fast day, with no meat; salted fish and potatoes, white sauce and butter, followed by tea and fruit cake.
Santa only gave them perhaps an orange, a few little books, crayons and sweets, but the important thing was that Santa had come. 

-Aine Aherne of Nohoba, Kinsale, County Cork.

It was magical and mysterious and somewhat frightening to a child’s mind, so Christmas long ago was absolute bliss … We were as good as gold the week before Christmas because we were told that “Holly Pux,” Santa’s friend, would be sitting on the chimney watching us, and if you were bold Santy would not come.

On Christmas Eve from dusk onwards there was this eerie feeling. We were terrified to look out – much less go out – for fear we would come face to face with this strange old man. Living in the country as we did – all thirteen of us – made it all the more haunting, there being no street lights and the only indoor lighting was that which shone from the lamp on the wall.

Having to go out in the yard for water or turf for the fire was a frightening ordeal because every shadow you saw you imagined was HIM. We would be given our tea early and sent off to bed and when the candle was blown out we used to close our eyes tightly and hide under the covers. 

-          Phyllis McDermott, Longwood, County Meath 

From "No Shoes in Summer," Wolfhound Press.